This year in the USA around eight million people will visit their doctor complaining of shoulder problems. Between fifty five and sixty percent of those will be diagnosed as having a rotator cuff problem. I know it’s no comfort to find that you are only one of millions but at least it means that shoulder complaints are taken seriously.
It also means that there are a lot of resources available to help and a huge amount of information. Whatever you do, don’t try to work through a shoulder injury. Unlike a lot of other muscular injuries, a lot of shoulder injuries will only get worse if you ignore them.
There are generally two or three major causes of shoulder injury. Wear and tear either through the aging process or repetitive movements, a direct injury such as a fall or knock to the shoulder or trying to lift something that is too heavy.
Symptoms again fall into common areas which are pain, weakness and loss of movement. A classic symptom of shoulder injuries is the inability to raise your arm above shoulder height or to the side or in front of you. The amount of movement restriction is a good pointer to the amount of damage that you have suffered.
Most injuries in the shoulder involve the muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage of the joint rather than the bones themselves. There are seventeen different muscles in and around the shoulder joint any one of which can lead to shoulder problems. Because the majority of shoulder injuries involve soft tissue damage physical therapy features strongly in a lot of the treatments but it is essential that you do shoulder specific exercises aimed at your specific injury as the wrong exercises can cause more damage and can end up with serious injuries.
The rotator cuff is a classic example of this. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that help stabilise the shoulder joint. They all connect the humerus to the scapula. They are small muscles but essential for a healthy shoulder joint. These muscles run under and over other muscles and one of them, the supraspinatus muscle, even runs under the collar bone. If you damage this muscle it can get inflamed and get pinched under the collar bone. Continuing to use this muscle can result in partial or complete tears that will need surgery.
Treatment for shoulder injuries will focus on RICE. Rest, ice, compression and elevation but will also often focus on strengthening the rotator cuff muscles to improve stability in the joint. Any exercise to work on this group of muscles will involve small weights and specific movements that do not stress the muscles.